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Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There is an eerie symmetry to the Toronto Maple Leafs drop-offs experienced last season and again this year.

They have come at roughly the same time. And they have been almost as severe.

From early January to mid-February in 2015, the free-falling Leafs recorded just two wins in 19 games (2-15-2) to drop into the NHL’s basement. By June, they were picking fourth overall, high enough to draft London Knights star Mitch Marner.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Sens: A look at his hockey career in numbers (CP Video)

This year, after a 7-2 implosion in Chicago on Monday night, the Leafs are 4-11-2 in their past 17 games, and fading fast. If the draft lottery were held today, they would have the best chance of picking first overall (20 per cent) for the first time since taking Wendel Clark in the top spot in 1985.

The biggest difference between this year and last is that an incredible run of injuries have played a starring role. Between trading captain Dion Phaneuf away to Ottawa last week and the loss of up to eight players at a time to injuries, the Leafs have had a skeletal roster of late.

In Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Polak had the most minutes among defencemen (24). Colin Greening, recently acquired from the Senators, had the most minutes among forwards (17), despite the fact he has spent most of the year in the American Hockey League with Binghamton.

That arrangement didn’t work out so well against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“We weren’t in the game basically from the start,” coach Mike Babcock lamented, before later adding: “They were just better than us. Period.”

That could be the postgame tale for a while. The Maple Leafs are about to face a run of good teams, with games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and first-place Washington Capitals in the next two weeks. There is also the trade deadline looming on Feb. 29, when even more talent will be traded away.

So yes, things can get worse.

This isn’t new. Other teams have pulled their rosters apart midway through the year en route to a good draft pick. Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt the other day that he did as much last season, explaining that “if we were going to be bad, my attitude was, let’s be real bad.”

He then called Connor McDavid, the eventual No. 1 pick, “a pretty big prize for being really bad.”

What’s made the Leafs’ situation unique is the organization has steadfastly refused to recall its best players from the minors. The Marlies are currently the top team in the AHL, with only nine regulation losses in 51 games, and young players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Stuart Percy are better than some of those playing for the Leafs.

Brendan Leipsic showed as much on Saturday against Vancouver, when he was granted his first NHL game and promptly scored his first NHL goal (the winner, no less).

He hardly looked out of place. But he was promptly demoted before their next game.

That’s because Leafs management sees little point in sacrificing development in order to prop up a makeshift NHL roster that was never going to contend this year. Most of the recalls all season have been older non-prospects – Rich Clune, Mark Arcobello and Byron Froese – to the detriment of the NHL roster, and the benefit of Toronto’s lottery chances.

Is that tanking? In the strictest sense of the word, sure. But the Leafs were also only five points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 6 after 38 games, and before all the injuries. They’re still on pace for 73 points, five better than a year ago.

If that’s tanking, it’s Tanking Lite compared with what teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Coyotes pulled off last season in failed attempts to get McDavid.

In fact, 73 points would be the best finish ever for a last-place NHL team. So if that was Leafs management’s sole intention with the season, they went about it in a curious way.

The way that their year has gone is, in many ways, the best possible outcome. There have been obvious improvements thanks to Babcock. The work ethic is there. And the Marlies have played like world-beaters.

Finishing 30th, thanks to injuries, trades and an insistence on protecting the kids, won’t be a black eye for anyone.

But it does leave the Leafs with their biggest hurdle still to come: beating the Edmonton Oilers in the draft lottery.

Good luck with that.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

Leafs Fall to Blackhawks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

CHICAGO – The sellout crowd chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” and Patrick Kane cracked a wry grin.

It was a sweet ending to a difficult homestand for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Kane had a goal and three assists, and the Blackhawks stopped a three-game slide with a dominant 7-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.

“We’ve been, I don’t want to say struggling offensively, but we’ve been waiting for a game like this,” Kane said.

Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen each had a power-play goal, helping Chicago salvage the finale of a lacklustre four-game homestand. It was the Blackhawks’ first game since they lost Marian Hossa to a left leg injury, likely sidelining the veteran forward for a couple of weeks.

“It was good that we got something positive leaving here,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

Scott Darling got the start in place of a resting Corey Crawford and made 35 saves, including an outstanding sprawling stop on Nick Spaling in the second period. Two of Darling’s six wins this season have come against lowly Toronto.

Mark Arcobello broke up Darling’s bid for his second career shutout with a rebound goal with 8:54 remaining. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau added a power-play goal and James Reimer had 25 saves for the Maple Leafs, who closed out a 1-4 road trip.

“Just forget it. We got tattooed, that’s the bottom line,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.

Goals by Brandon Mashinter, Shaw and Seabrook staked Chicago to a 3-0 lead through two periods, and the Blackhawks blew it open with an impressive flurry in the third. Beginning with Panarin’s 19th goal of the season, the defending Stanley Cup champions scored on four of six shots.

Kane made it 5-0 with his 34th of the season, sending a wrist shot past Reimer on the stick side. Teravainen then stopped a 17-game scoring drought with his 10th of the season, and defenceman Viktor Svedberg converted a big slap shot from the low slot at 10:20.

“We had a lot of guys score tonight,” Kane said. “Maybe it gives them some confidence, maybe the whole team confidence offensively. It’s always important in here not to really worry about the offence. We know the goals are going to come.”

The four points matched a career high for Kane, accomplished three times just this season. He had three goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Jan. 15 and leads the NHL with 82 points.

Duncan Keith added three assists for Chicago, which improved to 22-7-2 at home. Shaw finished with a goal and two assists, and Panarin also assisted on Kane’s goal.

“We haven’t played great,” said Shaw, who played with a cut near his right eye after a mishap during the morning skate. “We weren’t doing the little things right. We weren’t winning those 1-on-1 battles. We came out of that tonight and came out here and had a good first and built on it.”

Chicago was leading 3-0 in the second when Darling dove to grab Spaling’s shot, drawing a big ovation from the crowd of 21,767.

“A lot of things needed to go right,” Darling said. “I went to push (to the side), and my skate just didn’t grip the ice. You’ve just got to do whatever you can to go across the crease.”

Reimer had his own great sequence in the first, getting over to stop a shot by Panarin, and then denying Artem Anisimov in front.

“We probably took too many penalties, but it wasn’t our night, me included,” Reimer said. “We just didn’t have it tonight and they were coming. And they got a couple of good opportunities and they buried them.”

NOTES: Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, became the first member of his draft class to reach 400 assists… Hossa was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. “Hopefully two weeks is probably what we’re looking at,” Quenneville said after Monday morning’s skate… The Blackhawks matched a season high for goals scored, and the Maple Leafs equaled their most goals allowed… Blackhawks D Erik Gustafsson was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

Source: Leafs Fall to Blackhawks

Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

5:00 PM: Paul Hendrick gets you set for tonight’s game with his Maple Leafs Game Preview.

3:40 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Tim Peel and Brad Watson. Vaughan Rody and Greg Devorski will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.


3:35 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov

24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 28 Boyes

38 Greening – 56 Froese – 25 Clune

Defence

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders

34 Reimer

45 Bernier

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards

65 Shaw – 19 Toews – 14 Panik

72 Panarin – 15 Anisimov – 88 Kane

11 Desjardins – 24 Danault – 86 Teravainen

53 Mashinter – 70 Rasmussen – 48 Hinostroza

Defence

2 Keith – 4 Hjlamarsson

57 van Riemsdyk – 7 Seabrook

43 Svedberg – 32 Rozsival

Goaltenders

33 Darling

50 Crawford


3:30 PM: James Reimer gets the start on Monday in Chicago. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV

On the Blackhawks:

They’re a good squad, obviously they’ve got a lot of talent and I think it’s just a case where you play them honest. I think in here the way we’ve been playing the last couple of games, we’ve been playing real solid, real honest hockey. We just need another game like that. They’re a good team over there and we need to be at our best.

What do you remember about Richard Panik?

Real good player, a real good player. He’s a good friend of mine too and so obviously it was sad to him get traded. At the same time you’re happy for him and you want the best for him. He’s got a ton of skill, he’s got a great shot so you’ve just got to be aware of him when he’s out there.

Is there an emphasis on peripheral vision for you tonight against a player like Kane?

Yeah, you always have to be aware of who is out there and what they’re capable of. At the end of the day though, you’re playing against the puck. You always want to let it tell you what it wants you to do and so in any case with skilled players, you’ve got to be sharp and focused and be on your toes.

What’s it like to face 19 shots in Vancouver when you normally see double that?

It’s different, it’s just a different game. You’ve got to make sure you’re always ready. When your team is playing that well you just want to make sure that when they do get their chance that you’re good to go. It’s just a matter of staying in it and watching your team do their thing.

On Leipsic’s deut:

It’s awesome, obviously you’re homers in that sense, you always want the best for people coming out of your province or where you’re from. Any time there’s a Manitoban in the League you’re excited about it and when he’s on your team you’re even more pumped. I hope he can keep it going here and keep his bat ready and hot.

Did you know him at all before he got here?

No, not really. Obviously I knew him when he came to our team and skated with him this summer a little bit in Toronto but I never knew him before that, no.


3:15 PM: Colin Greening gets set for his third game in a Leafs sweater on Monday. Here’s what he had to say following the morning skate…

Leafs TV

Is being a physical player important to your success right now?

I think so, especially when you’re on the forecheck. If you look at the game now it’s very fast-moving and in order to keep the puck in the corner and not allow the defensive team to break out quickly you have to stop the puck and a lot of times it’s being physical on the forecheck. That’s a big thing and part of my game is making sure I’m on the forecheck and finishing my hits.

On the team effort to limit Vancouver in the offensive zone:

When you think about it, especially when you think about the Sedins, you have to make sure you can hem the puck in their zone. If they don’t have the puck that bodes well for the team. They have a lot of firepower in Vancouver and it’s going to be the same thing for Chicago. It’s going to be a good challenge tonight but we’re excited.

What’s the fine line with putting pucks in the net on the power play given the chances?

Given that I’ve only been here for two games I don’t really know the difference, I know that I can only speak for my unit. I think that Arcobello and P-A and Morgan and Froese and Boyes have been moving the puck really well. I think we’ve been reading off each other pretty well. We haven’t been holding on to it, getting a lot of shots. I think that’s important too because once you get shots on net it spreads out the PK a little bit. I guess from the limited time I’ve been here that’s what I’ve seen.


3:00 PM: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner has four points in three games on this road trip. Here’s what he had to say ahead of Monday’s game in Chicago…

Leafs TV

On his recent offensive output:

I’m not sure, some of the points were a little lucky but I feel pretty confident on the ice now, moving the puck well. It’s kind of weird how that happens, sometimes you lose it for a few games and get it back and I think that’s kind of what happened.

On the keys to jumping into the rush:

Yeah, you’ve just got to pick your spots. A guy like Kane, Panarin, Toews, guys like that, sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit more cautious and if it’s a riskier play, choose your spots.

On duplicating the effort in Vancouver to earn a win tonight:

Yeah, for sure. Just the way our whole team has been played the last three games has been pretty cool, especially with the guys out of the lineup and younger guys stepping up. It has been good for our group.

What’s the key to turning around the power play?

I think we had probably 10 or 12 chances [against Vancouver] and nothing went in. The goalie has been playing well for the other team, I guess. We just haven’t been getting many bounces. We’re happy with the production we’ve had and just hopefully we can get some goals here.

What are you seeing as you finish off that goal in Edmonton?

I don’t know if I ended up hitting that in the end there, I couldn’t really tell because I hit the post with it too. I just saw it going in and thought I’d give it a chance.


2:45 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say following Monday’s morning skate…

Leafs TV

On discipline as a key vs. Chicago:

We’re going to need it obviously. Last time we played them we took six minors, they got two on the power play, but really they got three when the guy just got out. We’ve got to figure that out and we’ve got to play real well. They’ve got a lot of skill in their lineup, they’re a fun team to play against because you find out what the standard is and you’ve got to play well without the puck. It should be a lot of fun for us tonight.

How is Grabner?

Good, he’s playing tonight.

Is Kadri back?

Don’t know, we’ll see tonight.

Was it all hands on deck to keep Vancouver below 20 shots?

I thought we played well and we executed in our own zone so we got to roll around in their zone. That’s what the game is supposed to be about, it’s supposed to be about offence, it’s more fun that way. I thought we were prepared and we executed and we have to do the same here tonight.

Did Leipsic respond the way you like from a player in his first game?

As much as you watch him in the American League — and I watch those guys on TV quite a bit — you don’t know until they get here. Can they handle the pace? Do they have skill? Are they going to be afraid? You don’t really know those things. I thought he was real good in the game he got to play.

Do you get excited or nervous for guys playing their first game?

I get excited for them. The kid scored, I saw it on the replay when I was watching the game. First they made him go out for warmup by himself, which I thought was kind of cool. The second thing is you score and your Mom and Dad and Billets are there so that’s pretty special. The whole thing has to be a real good experience. You work hard to get here and now once you get here and get a taste, you know how hard you have to work to keep staying here and ideally you get here and stay here a long time.

What did Panik lack to make the team?

I don’t think he lacked anything. I think he’s a big guy who skates real good, he’s heavy and is playing well right now for these guys. He played well for us with the Marlies and obviously when he was with the Marlies they decided they wanted to try something else so that’s what they did.

What has the consistent effort of Hunwick meant to the team this season?

I think when you look at guys and good pros who do it right every day it has been a positive thing for us. Obviously him and Polie have been excellent that way, Leo, Grabner. When you look at those guys they play hard every day and they do it right and they’ve been good support for our young people.

How challenging has this trip been with the length and all the injuries and changes?

I don’t know, it’s been a good trip. I got to see one daughter in Calgary, one in Vancouver. To me it doesn’t much matter, we play games and you’ve got to get ready for those games. I think the trip has been spread out, we haven’t had to play back-to-back. We had a travel day yesterday and an off-day, we should be fresh for tonight, there’s no reason — we’ve got an off-day when we get home. Let’s just play.

Is Morin in tonight?

No.

What has been the process been like in Toronto thus far?

Well, I didn’t say I was looking forward to the pain so let’s get that straight. I was looking forward to the challenge and it’s been exactly what you expected. I think the thing that has been real good is Lou and Shanny have been real patient and we all know what the plan is on game day, you expect to win, you expect to prepare to win and you expect to win. The rest of the days you follow your plan and what your plan is and do it long term. All you’ve got to do is look at the Hawks. To build up a 10-year run, you went through some tough times for a long time to get the skillset where you need it. That’s what we have to do right now. We’re in the process of doing it.

2:30 PM: The Maple Leafs wrap up their four-game road trip on Monday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

The Leafs are coming off of a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Brendan Leipsic had his first NHL goal and Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals as a Leaf while Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added solo tallies. James Reimer stopped 17 shots to earn the victory. He starts again in Chicago.

The Blackhawks last played on Saturday night and took a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Brent Seabrook had both goals for Chicago while Corey Crawford made 41 saves in the loss. Scott Darling is slated to get the start in goal against Toronto.

Stay tuned for updates from Coach Babcock, the Leafs, projected lineups and more.

Source: Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

Leafs' Cheap UFA Gambit Already Paying Off

From Pension Puppets

What the market will pay for the Leafs’ expiring free agents is tough to gauge, but they’re a win for the Leafs regardless.

For many years, we here at PPP called for the Leafs to identify undervalued UFAs and sign them to cheap, short-term deals. We reasoned that if the player rebounded, he would either be re-signed as a useful player or dealt for assets at the trade deadline. If the player failed to produce the results desired, the team wouldn’t have wasted much in the way of money or long-term cap space, and in the meantime, would have sheltered prospects.

Instead, because the Leafs fixated for so many years on more expensive “blue-collar” players such as Mike Komisarek, David Clarkson and Dave Bolland, the team wound up spending extra money on an area of market inefficiency. While the Leafs slowly figured out that they could pay 3rd and 4th line players peanuts every year, other teams noticed as well, and started to pay less and less for their own bottom-six and bottom-pairing talent.

With the market bottoming out for short-term UFA help, there has been some consternation that the Leafs’ “pump’n dump” contracts won’t yield much of anything at the deadline, which is to say that most teams have a bunch of cheap, short-term contracts they can use to plug holes in their lineup already. The fact that a number of well-known NHL veterans have hit the waiver wire recently and gone unclaimed seems to add further credence to the idea that what the Leafs currently have on offer isn’t worth beans on the trade block.

Here’s the thing though: that’s fine. The Leafs’ cheap, short-term UFA deals are already paying dividends.

Even if the team gets nothing for any of the players signed/acquired this summer, they will have already had the benefit of three advantages: 1) the team got to take a chance on their bouncing back at next to no cost, 2) they didn’t plug up their cap situation with bad, long-term deals that will impede the Leafs’ ability to re-sign the likes of Mitch Marner or William Nylander, and 3) they got to keep prospects in their farm system for longer, instead of leaning heavily on young players in a hopeless losing season.

But what about their trade value, though?

Within the context that these pump’n dump deals are already a success, it doesn’t make too much sense to worry about the returns that these players yield for the Leafs – anything, absolutely anything they get in return is gravy. Having said that, it’s all but guaranteed that the Leafs will be able to get a pick or two out of the mix.

Certain contracts, like those of Roman Polak or Tyler Bozak each stand a realistic chance of netting the Leafs a tidy return before the trade deadline, so it’s not as though the Leafs are unable to acquire more assets without their pump’n dump deals, but let’s look at the list of players signed/acquired in this past off-season who are on the trading block:

Player Cap hit
Michael Grabner $3,000,000
Shawn Matthias $2,300,000
Daniel Winnik $2,250,000
Nick Spaling $2,200,000
P.A. Parenteau $1,500,000
Mark Arcobello $1,100,000
Brad Boyes $700,000
Rich Clune $575,000
Matt Hunwick $1,200,000
Martin Marincin $700,000
Frank Corrado $632,500

There are a few players on the above list that don’t strictly meet the pump’n dump criteria, but I thought I would include them for the sake of discussion. Grabner, for instance, cost the Leafs 5 middling prospects to acquire (don’t trade young goaltenders!), Spaling came over in the Kessel deal, Marcin cost Brad Ross and the 107th pick (not to mention the fact that Marincin is still young), and while Corrado was a waiver wire pickup, he is still young enough to have some limited upside. Nevertheless, the Leafs would probably love to flip and and all of them (with the possible exceptions of Marincin and Corrado) for other assets, particularly draft picks.

The most likely to go are Parenteau, Arcobello, Boyes, and to a lesser extent Matthias, since all of their contracts are quite reasonable given their production. Hunwick also stands a decent chance of being moved, since his usage has quite outstripped his income, even if it has also exceeded his abilities. For any of these players, the Leafs might expect in return draft picks in the later rounds or maybe even just a body back in exchange that has a lower cap hit – the Leafs are going to have to manage their cap carefully so as not to go over and be penalized for next season.

Several of the other players look less likely to be traded, though the reasons vary. Corrado and Marincin, for example, are still young and have looked good in their limited showing with the Leafs so far, and so one would think that the Leafs would hang on to them for next season. Meanwhile, Grabner, Winnik, and Matthias all have box score numbers that make their cap hits more difficult to rationalize, especially given that they’ve played on a weak offensive team all year and have been handed plenty of opportunity to score. Clune and Spaling, on the other hand, cost virtually nothing but also add very little in the way of scoring help that most teams will be looking for at the deadline.

As for concerns about the NHL’s waiver wire setting the tone of the market, it’s true that it does, but not in the way you would think. Yes, there have been veterans let go, and it is true that they have gone unclaimed. But rather than indicate that teams don’t need help, it instead signals that teams are looking for greater cap efficiency from their bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defencemen, and several of the Leafs’ players mentioned above have that in spades.

Brandon Prust and Mason Raymond? They both cost too much for playoff teams to bother claiming them. Same for Sam Gagner. Scott Gomez doesn’t cost much, but then, he’s old as dust anyway. None of Parenteau, Arcobello, Boyes, or Hunwick are prohibitively expensive or old, and so it is possible that a market exists for their services. These waiver wire snubs don’t mean that playoff teams aren’t looking for rental help, it’s just that the help has to be cheaper.

With the sudden “injuries” to Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak and the trading of Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs have the perfect opportunity to showcase their inexpensive wares, and other teams have undoubtedly taken notice. It’s a matter of time before the Leafs begin converting them into later-round picks that will only help the rebuild.

Source: Leafs' Cheap UFA Gambit Already Paying Off

Leafs Win In Vancouver

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs


VANCOUVER _ Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals of the season 17 seconds apart and Brendan Leipsic added his first NHL goal in his first game as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Saturday night.

James Reimer made 17 stops and Jake Gardiner added two assists for Toronto (20-25-9), which entered play last in the overall standings and won in regulation for just the second time since Jan. 6. Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added empty netters.

The Maple Leafs, who came in on a three-game slide and were just 3-10-2 over their last 15, stunned the hockey world by trading captain Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa earlier this week, and iced an injury-depleted lineup that included a number of youngsters and minor leaguers.

Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for Vancouver (22-21-12), which had won two in a row to get back in the Western Conference playoff race after dropping four straight. Ryan Miller made 33 saves.

Up 2-1 after two periods and leading 31-13 on the shot clock, Toronto stretched its advantage to two at 3:54 of the third. Leipsic, an emergency injury callup from the AHL, batted the puck home in front of a helpless Miller after Rich Clune‘s initial shot bounced high off a Vancouver defender.

Baertschi buried a rebound with 1:47 left in regulation for his 11th, but Boyes, with his sixth, and Komarov, with his 18th, scored into empty nets as Toronto collected its first win in Vancouver since November 2003 to snap a seven-game losing streak.

Leafs fans decked out in blue and white chanted “Go Leafs Go” as the final seconds wound down before the Toronto players spilled over the boards to celebrate a complete victory.

After a scoreless first where Toronto held a 16-7 edge in shots, the Canucks grabbed the lead 3:18 into the second. Jannik Hansen stole the puck behind the Leafs net and fed it in front to Sedin, who buried his 22nd of the season and first in seven games.

Arcobello, who was pointless in 13 games before Saturday, got that one back 1:09 later when he jumped on a Canucks turnover and ripped a shot past Miller.

In the third game of his most recent callup, Arcobello then gave his team the lead just 17 seconds later when Gardiner drove past Radim Vrbata and Arcobello shovelled the loose puck past Miller.

Toronto had been outscored 15-6 in its last three games, and nearly went up 3-1 on an extended 5-on-3 power play, but Morgan Rielly saw one shot hit the post before Miller snagged another with his glove.

Reimer didn’t have a lot to do at the other end until Emerson Etem tested him with a one timer from the slot and Bo Horvat tried to beat him upstairs on a wraparound.

The period was accented by a tussle between a clearly frustrated Henrik Sedin and Komarov that had the Vancouver captain taking swings at the Leafs forward.

The Canucks, who have now failed to win three in a row six times this season, donned black throwback jerseys that featured the “flying skate” logo the club abandoned after the 1996-97 season as part of 20th anniversary celebrations for Rogers Arena.

Notes: The Canucks announced Friday that defenceman Alexander Edler and forward Brandon Sutter will miss at least six weeks each after suffering injuries in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Colorado. Edler was hurt blocking a shot with his foot, while Sutter broke his jaw after taking a puck to the face. … Leafs centre Nazem Kadri sat out for a second night in a row with a lower-body injury. … Henrik Sedin played his 1,141th game for the Canucks to pass team president Trevor Linden for the all-time record.

Source: Leafs Win In Vancouver

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:

Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.

Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.

New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.

The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.

Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.

In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.

An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.

The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.

Savour the win, but not for too long.

The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

From The Star

VANCOUVER—In the handful of days since the Maple Leafs traded captain Dion Phaneuf, head coach Mike Babcock has been putting a positive spin on a less-than-optimal situation.

For an intensely competitive coach who likes nothing more than to celebrate a nightly victory, Toronto’s roster is nightmarishly short on established difference makers. But Babcock has used the state of affairs as motivational fodder.

“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Babcock has said.

And in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks, he wasn’t kidding. In the first period alone the Maple Leafs’ pair of power-play opportunities were handed over to a list of names a fan wouldn’t automatically associate with man-advantage situations. Brendan Leipsic, 21, was making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up — he got nearly two minutes of power-play run. Colin Greening and Mark Arcobello have spent most of the season in the AHL; they were both featured prominently.

Babcock was effectively saying, “Here’s your NHL moment — seize it.”

Leipsic certainly did. Along with logging those power-play minutes, he scored his first NHL goal, batting what turned out to be the third-period winner into the net with a waist-high swat from the slot.

Arcobello seized the opportunity, too, potting a pair of second-period goals in a span of 17 seconds to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak. On a night when the visitors put on a possession-game clinic, doubling the shots-on-goal total of the playoff-hopeful Canucks, 38-19, Leafs veterans Leo Komarov and Brad Boyes scored empty-netters to pad the total.

“That’s a case study in what we’re capable of,” said Rich Clune, another Leaf better known for his work with the Marlies this year, who assisted on Leipsic’s goal. “Getting a win on the road against a highly skilled team like Vancouver — I think we frustrated them, especially early on. I think our work ethic is our key.”

Indeed, for all the minor-leaguers on their bench on Saturday, the Maple Leafs roundly outplayed the Canucks for most of the evening. On the Canucks’ three cracks on the power play, the diligent work of the visitors limited the home team to a combined two shots. Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for the Canucks. But Leipsic’s goal turned out to be the difference.

“Lucky to get a stick on it,” said Leipsic, a 21-year-old Winnipegger acquired a year ago in the trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville.

Clune, who played on Leipsic’s line on Saturday, gave it more credit.

“The hand-eye coordination, you can’t fake that,” Clune said. “That’s a legit goal. I’m so proud of him.”

Babcock described the five-foot-nine Leipsic as “a greasy little guy who’s got real good skill level, tenacity about him.” Clune, who played with Leipsic last season in Milwaukee, said Leipsic has been largely overlooked by Leafs Nation because he plays on a team with higher-profile assets like William Nylander and Connor Brown.

“William Nylander’s the number one guy, rightfully so. But (Leipsic) is a legit prospect behind him,” Clune said. “Maybe it’s even been better for him to fly under the radar. Maybe some people don’t see him coming.”

Leipsic, who didn’t get the benefit of a Friday practice given the emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Vancouver Friday night, became the first Leaf to score in his NHL debut since Nikolai Kulemin did it in the 2008-09 season opener in Detroit.

While the Maple Leafs are in full rebuilding mode, the Canucks, still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins, are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, coming into Saturday’s game three points out of a Western wild-card spot and likely Canada’s best hope for a representative in the Stanley Cup tournament. So Saturday was an untimely moment for a flat performance, to be sure.

But the Leafs, though they came into the contest in sole possession of the NHL basement and hobbled by injuries that kept the likes of Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, deserved the win. If they played what looked like desperate hockey, perhaps it was because Babcock has acknowledged that, for most of the roster, Toronto-based employment is a tenuous thing with the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming.

With plenty of uncertainty in the air, perhaps Arcobello was in his element. The 27-year-old alumnus of Yale University is a burgeoning journeyman; he has played for five different NHL franchises in his most recent two seasons.

“This is a hard league to play in,” Arcobello said. “When you get an open door, you’ve got to take advantage of it . . . You never know when you’re going to get a chance again.”

It was back in the Brian Burke era that the Maple Leafs’ farm team adopted a marketing slogan: “Every Game is a Tryout.” Such is the state of Leafland that the catchphrase suddenly applies on the NHL team, too.

Source: Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday at Rexall Place:

Injury-depleted roster not an excuse in gritty Leafs effort.

Playing without injured veterans Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, Toronto was going to be in tough to produce enough offence to beat the high-octane Oilers. But after surrendering the first goal of the game to Edmonton phenom Connor McDavid early in the first period, the Buds answered back with a goal from Josh Leivo to make it 1-1, held the hosts to just three first-period shots on Jonathan Bernier and clawed back from a 3-1 deficit in the middle frame on Jake Gardiner’s second goal in as many games. McDavid scored his second of the night in the third period to put the game out of reach, but they were competitive for the grand majority of the 60 minutes.

Josh Leivo on a roll before leaving the game.

Leivo’s first-period goal – a near-identical copy of the one he scored against Calgary on Tuesday – was his second of the year at this level, his second in two games, and an indication he’s got an NHL-calibre shot. Unfortunately, he didn’t return after the first intermission after suffering an upper-body injury, but the 22-year-old is demonstrating he can provide the offence Toronto has desperately been seeking.

Another above-average night for Jake Gardiner.

Yes, his ill-timed pinch led to McDavid’s first goal, and yes, Gardiner gave away the puck on the same play that ended when he scored his fifth of the year, but Toronto doesn’t have many players who have his patience level and creativity with the puck. He’s still got to improve in some areas, but there are few, if any, Leafs blueliners who can do what Gardiner can on offence.

Mark Arcobello leads way in shots-on-net during season-high in minutes.

The Leafs’ two top forwards in terms of ice time Thursday were veterans Leo Komarov (19:13) and P-A Parenteau (18:17), but a close third was Arcobello, who logged a season-best 17:31 while leading Toronto in shots-on-net (seven). The 27-year-old is still looking for his first NHL point of the season after spending most of it with the AHL’s Marlies, but the coaching staff no doubt will be encouraged by his willingness to put the puck on net.

That McDavid kid is pretty good.

The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL draft was the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie this year before a lengthy injury hurt those chances. But McDavid has been nothing short of spectacular since he returned to game action Feb. 2, and his two-goal, five-point performance Thursday against the Leafs is evidence he can still win that award in the 26 regular-season games the Oilers have remaining. After Thursday’s game, the 19-year-old has nine goals and 24 points in 19 games, and betting against him keeping up that point pace would be folly.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

Dion Phaneuf’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators began in Detroit on Wednesday night. On the second defence pair with youngster Cody Ceci, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain had a different jersey, with a different number (2) and no letter on his chest.

After 423 games as a Leaf – the Senators’ most bitter rival – it was an odd visual.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Sens: A look at his hockey career in numbers (CP Video)

And the Phaneuf trade is only the beginning. More Leafs are likely to follow him out the door, with the majority of roster spots up for grabs in the 18 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline.

It’s expected Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be one of the NHL’s busiest executives the rest of the way. He has nine pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the current roster, and it makes no sense to hold onto any of them if prospects and/or draft picks can be had in return.

The Leafs have also discussed moving winger Dan Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who both have one year on their deals beyond this season, in talks with other teams.

Add in the veterans left from the former management’s core – Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak – and the three hefty contracts the Leafs just added from Ottawa on Tuesday and that is 16 players off the current 27-man roster (including injured reserve) who are undeniably available.

That’s a lot of trade calls.

Realistically, how many will be traded? And what can Toronto expect to get?

The unrestricted free agents

There are two groups of rental players the Leafs have to offer teams. The first – namely P.A. Parenteau and goaltender James Reimer – are players that have had good seasons and will be easy to move for something of value.

Reimer is a special case in that he is the only pending UFA who the team is still trying to re-sign. But he could be a valuable short-term option for a team such as Nashville, which is on the postseason bubble and having issues in goal. At the very least, Parenteau and Reimer should be able to garner second-round picks or solid prospects if they’re moved.

The second group comprises players with more limited value. Defenceman Roman Polak could be an exception given how many teams want big, physical-depth defencemen, but even then it’s hard to imagine he’d fetch much more than a third-round pick.

The Leafs other pending UFAs – Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Rich Clune – have had marginal production this year (or spent time in the minors) so they’ll be a tougher sell.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Leafs somehow found takers for players such as Olli Jokinen (sixth-round pick from St. Louis) and Korbinian Holzer (fifth-round pick from Anaheim) at last year’s deadline. Anything is possible. Especially if Toronto takes back bad money in a deal, as they did in accepting Eric Brewer in the Holzer trade.

The trade bait and vets with big contracts

After moving Phaneuf, the Leafs don’t have many “big” contracts left. Lupul is the team’s highest-paid player at $5.25-million a season, followed by James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Bernier in the $4.2-million range. The only player on the team signed beyond 2017-18 is defenceman Jake Gardiner, who is 25 years old.

It’s difficult to imagine they could find a taker for Lupul, as he has only 14 points in 46 games and is again on injured reserve. Bozak and Bernier, however, should have some value and could possibly be moved for second- or third-round picks simply to shed more salary.

The Leafs moved Winnik to Pittsburgh before last year’s deadline for a second- and fourth-rounder, which isn’t going to happen again given the season he’s had. A mid-round pick would be a reasonable return this time. It’s also possible the Leafs move Ottawa transplants Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Jared Cowen, who all have one year left on their deals. Cowen, in particular, could be intriguing for a contending team, as he can be bought out at a low cost in the summer in a transaction that will grant extra cap space in 2016-17.

Who is safe?

It’s unlikely the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly or Gardiner, who will form the nucleus of a roster that is going to get even younger with an influx of a half-dozen or so players from the AHL’s Marlies next season.

Everyone else is an option.

That said, someone has to play with the kids next season. The Leafs have to be careful not to go too scorched-earth by putting young players in over their heads – the way Edmonton did – and ending up mired in the NHL’s basement for several more years.

They’ll get a close-up view of that on Thursday against the Oilers, with something of note on the line: The losing team will claim last place in the NHL standings.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There will be no James van Riemsdyk in the lineup. No Tyler Bozak. No Shawn Matthias or Joffrey Lupul.

The goal-starved Toronto Maple Leafs – 27th in the NHL with 2.29 goals scored a game – are now without four of their nine highest-scoring forwards. Their injuries range from broken foot (van Riemsdyk) and concussion (Bozak) to whiplash (Matthias) and the inexplicable “middle-body injury”(Lupul).

So they head out on a four-game road trip through Western Canada and Chicago with a few American Hockey Leaguers in the lineup, and their coach again urging them to win ugly.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Mike Babcock said before he boarded a plane bound for Calgary, where the Leafs play Tuesday. “We went through that this morning [on video].

“Obviously we’re more offensively challenged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win.”

Lately, the Leafs have been finding ways to lose. In their last 13 games, they have three wins (and only one in regulation), all but mathematically wiping out their playoff hopes.

Saturday’s loss to the struggling Ottawa Senators may have been Toronto’s worst of the season, especially given – as Babcock said Monday – it was over “in the first eight minutes.”

The Leafs have been in the NHL’s basement all year, but back in early January, it appeared they might claw their way higher. At that point, they were riding a streak of 15-8-5 and sat only five points out of a playoff spot. Now they’re 12 points back, missing much of their meagre offensive talent, and Babcock has resorted to praising Rich Clune whenever he can (“Clune’s been real good for us”).

Going into the game against the Flames, the Leafs playoff chances sat at 3 per cent (via hockeyviz.com). They had a better shot at getting the first overall draft pick – 8 per cent, or fourth-highest in the league. And the more they struggle to score, the more they’ll lose and the better that pick percentage will get.

None of this is a surprise. The Leafs were almost certainly going to be awful this year, and they knew it. It’s early February, and already the organization’s focus is firmly on next season and beyond. In recent days, for example, the Leafs have been heavily scouting two prospects in Finland (Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi) who are projected to be selected at the top of the draft.

A stop in Switzerland to shadow potential No. 1 pick Auston Matthews – the 18-year-old phenom who has a remarkable 24 goals in 31 Swiss league games – is also likely in order.

So the problem with all the injuries isn’t that the Maple Leafs will lose. They were already doing that in fine fashion. What’s troubling is that it’ll be more difficult to trade players such as Matthias or Bozak if they’re banged up.

Lupul? At 32 years old (going on 42) with two years left on a huge contract, he is unmovable.

JVR, meanwhile, is likely staying put, given he was turning into a legitimate star through the first 40 games (van Riemsdyk’s importance to the team is best measured by how brutal the Leafs’ offence has been without him).

All these losses open up considerable holes in an already thin lineup. At Monday’s practice, Babcock had crazy things going on, like Clune on the power play, but he also had Mark Arcobello in a prominent role for the first time in months. Josh Leivo was on the power play, and Brad Boyes was cemented in the lineup, albeit on the fourth line.

Perhaps those four get more minutes and show more than they have to date? Perhaps that shows, in Leivo’s case, that he can play in the NHL as a regular-season regular, or that, in the case of everyone else, there might be some low-end trade value there?

It’s tough searching for reasons to watch the Leafs right now, but that might be one.

Or you can tune in simply to see the latest source of Babcock’s exasperation. You might want popcorn.

“I’m dying for someone to score a goal,” Babcock said. “If you’ve scored in the past, you’re going to get an opportunity to do something.”

And even if you haven’t, step right up.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs